On the Fabric of the Ngarrindjeri Body is an exhibition of drawings, prints and photographs by artist Damien Shen (Ngarrindjeri, Chinese). These works tell the story of the hallowed Aboriginal body and its desecration when colonial scientists stole Aboriginal remains to collect them for research. Drawing works from the series Wise Men and the series On the Fabric of the Ngarrindjeri Body Volume II, Shen investigates the politics of death, the body, and race from a unique and often silenced perspective.
Wise Men is a series of portraits drawn in pastels. Some are portraits of the so-called wise men who collected Ngarrindjeri remains at the turn of the 19th century in South Australia, one of whom collected the remains of at least 500 Ngarrindjeri people to be sent to collections overseas. Others represent the true wise men, such as Shen’s relatives who have been integral in the repatriation of his people’s remains to their community. In general, Shen’s work explores the dehumanization of the body after death and he sees his practice as an effort to “reintroduce some spirit back into the body.”
On the Fabric of the Ngarrindjeri Body Volume II is a series of photographs of the artist by Richard Lyons, which documents the first time Shen’s body was painted for a Ngarrindjeri ceremony by Major Sumner, his uncle. Another work in the exhibition is a charcoal self-portrait by Shen on this occasion.
Damien Shen grew up outside of Adelaide and holds a Bachelor’s of Visual Communications in illustration from the University of South Australia and a graduate certificate in Management from the Australian Institute of Business. His work has been in over thirty exhibitions around Australia and he has won multiple accolades: the South Australian NAIDOC Artist of the Year Award (2014), the Prospect Portraiture Prize (2015) and the 64th Blake Prize for Emerging Artists (2016).
Damien Shen’s exhibition and residency are presented in partnership with Australia Council for the Arts.